Topics in Comparative Literature
Literary Cultures of the Muslim World: Foundational Texts and Anti-Texts
In this class, we study diverse genres of writing in the pre-modern and modern Muslim World through the lens of institutionalized texts and their anti-texts. By texts we mean canonized forms of writing which are central in the diverse Islamic knowledge traditions, from literary composition to Islamic philosophy. By anti-texts, we mean texts which convey popular traditions of storytelling and folk religiosity and discourses of the comic, the sexual, the obscene, and the grotesque. While texts and anti-texts imply opposition and conflict, our aim is to investigate the complementariness of their discourses and their symbolic exchange. We ask how texts carry the seeds of their anti-texts and how the marginal is central to the self-definition of the canonical. We explore how sacred and profane discourses exchange tropes and engage in practices of translation that fits these tropes into their worldviews. Finally, we explore the novel (using Arabic and Turkish examples) as the arch text of secular modernity and analyze how it enters into dialogue with these pre-modern Islamic genres of writing which constitute its anti-text. All readings for our course will be in English. No prior Knowledge of Middle Eastern Languages is required.
The primary texts of our course, and which will be structured in pairs, include: the Quran and the pre-Islamic Ode; the account of Prophet Mohammed’s heavenly journey and al-Maʿarri’s Epistle of Forgiveness (an account of the poet’s journey into the afterlife); Attar’s The Conference of the Birds (Sufi allegorical tales) and The One Thousand and One Nights; Ibn Tufayl’s Hayy Ibn Yaqzan (a philosophical tale) and al-Hariri’s maqamat (comic tales focused on a trickster figure); Rumi’s Sufi poems and Abu Nuwas’ Wine Odes; excerpts from Ibn Miskawayh’s The Refinement of Character and al-Nifzawi’s Perfumed Garden (an erotica manual), al-Mawardi’s mirror for princes and Ibn al-Hajjaj’s poetics of the obscene. For the novels, we will read The Egyptian writer Gamal al-Ghitani’s Zayni Barakat and the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red.